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Visible vs. Invisible Diversity

By July 22, 2021September 5th, 2023Diversity and Inclusion

invisible diversity acknowledges that there is more than what meets the eye“Don’t judge a book by its cover…there is more than what meets the eye,” both are phrases we’ve heard countless times growing up. Yet, when we think about diversity, we still tend to focus on characteristics we can outwardly see, like someone’s age, race, ethnicity, or gender. These physical differences are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to diversity. This blog will identify the differences between visible and invisible diversity and six tips on creating a recruitment process that’s inclusive in both forms.

Types of Diversity

As a refresher, diversity refers to the makeup of your company. It’s looking at the differences between us and acknowledging how they make us unique. These differences can come in visible and invisible forms.

Visible diversity refers to the characteristics that can be readily seen such as age, sex, or race.

These differences are easier to identify, process, and define, but there is much more to an individual than their physical appearance! This is where invisible diversity comes into play!

Invisible diversity refers to the characteristics that cannot be readily seen such as disability, religion, sexual orientation, military experience, socioeconomic background, marital status, nation origin, and more.

Invisible diversity encapsulates our backgrounds, experiences, and characteristics that make us truly unique individuals.

visible vs. invisible diversity

Just because we cannot readily see invisible diversity does not mitigate the importance of recognizing, understanding, and addressing invisible diversity. Invisible diversities can be a major part of a person’s life and may impact an employee’s ability to perform typical work activities and communicate effectively. They can also impact a person’s ability to move through the recruitment and selection process. 

Acknowledging Invisible Diversity In Recruiting

Today, there is a major focus on recruiting diverse candidates and creating a diverse workforce. Here are six tips to help you ensure that your recruiting process is inclusive and values both visible and invisible diversities:

Invisible Diversity includes characteristics we can't see like religion, thinking styles, military status, education background, gender identity, and marital status

1.Don’t assume everyone is like you, even if they look like you

It is really easy to assume that someone that looks like you is like you. However, shared physical characteristics don’t equal shared life experiences. There are different demographic invisible diversities like religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and education level that impact the way we live and experience society. There are also psychological invisible diversities like values, beliefs, attitudes, personality, cognitive and behavioral styles, as well as knowledge, skills, and abilities. All of these factors make us all different people and individuals. 

2. Don’t expect disclosure

A 2011 study found that 88% of people with invisible disabilities have a negative view of disclosing their disability.  While many people with disabilities ask for accommodations in the workplace, some don’t want to reveal their disability. This does not apply to just disabilities but also any form of invisible diversity. 

Many people are “passing” and able to hide their invisible social identities. They might fabricate, conceal or use discretion to hide because of fear of discrimination or harassment. Not everyone wants to reveal the most personal parts of their life, like their sexual orientation at the workplace, and that’s okay. We can’t expect everyone to share the deepest parts of their identity. All we can do as leaders in our organizations is to create a safe environment where people will feel comfortable sharing if they want to. 

If employees do disclose their invisible diversity, believe them. You shouldn’t ask them to prove it. Many people with disabilities do not fit what a stereotypical person with a disability may look like. It is not a disabled person’s responsibility to look like what someone thinks they should like. If someone comes to HR to ask for an accommodation, regardless of how surprised you may be, follow your regular process, acquire medical documentation if necessary, and don’t push the topic any further. Questioning a person’s disability can cause them additional pain, shame, and to feel unwelcome in your organization.

3. Be aware of social cues

Many times when people are uncomfortable, they might not immediately tell you about one of their invisible diversities. This discomfort may be out of fear of repercussions, so the person may use social cues as a way to feel out their environment and to start subtly disclosing their identity. For example, if someone is trying to conceal their sexual orientation at work and someone repeatedly asks them about who they are dating, they might try to send signs that they are uncomfortable. This can be by sending messages, dropping hints, or giving clues. Sometimes people want to see how their colleagues will react before completely disclosing their invisible diversity. 

The best thing we can do is to reduce saying things that might be misconstrued as offensive even if you did not have malicious intent. Also, try to pick up on social cues when our colleagues might be uncomfortable or offended. If they are, apologize and avoid repeating the same mistake.

4. Be inclusive with your language

Inclusive language is a way to neutralize language and not make cultural assumptions. It’s a great tool to help make your workplace more equitable. Practicing inclusive language means avoiding gendered words/phrases like “Hey guys” or “Ladies and Gentlemen.” These phrases, while they probably didn’t have negative intent, can negatively impact others. Using masculine phrases like “hey guys” can be a sign of unconscious bias. By opting to use gender-neutral phrases like “everybody,” you can prevent accidentally misgendering a colleague.

5. Recognize that communication styles vary

People’s communication styles are different! Not everyone talks the same way. People with different cultures might have different speech patterns and nonverbal communication styles. Neurodiverse people often have different communication styles and might not be able to easily verbalize what they are thinking. Life experiences often shape the way we communicate. It’s important to respect how others communicate and try to be understanding and patient. 

6. Advocate for education and awareness 

One of the best recommendations for all types of diversity is to advocate for increased education and building awareness. The goal of diversity training programs is typically to increase awareness and eliminate stereotypes. By continuing to educate and learn more about invisible diversities, you can develop a team culture that not only spans the differences but celebrates them.

Long-Term Benefits for Your Business 

Invisible diversities and diversity, in general, are what make people unique! Having a diverse team means getting to learn from and collaborate with people with unique perspectives. For your business, this often means creating better products, customer experiences, employee retention, and stronger problem-solving abilities.

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